July 8, 2019

If The Shoe Fits: A Leadership Lesson from Cinderella

Clinician Leadership | Leadership Development

Reading Time: 4 minutes

We all know the story of Cinderella – the orphaned girl turned slave by her evil stepmother who eventually won the heart of the prince and became a princess:

Eligible maidens of the kingdom were invited to the wife-selection ball to compete for the attention of the prince and the chance to become the princess. Sensing that Cinderella was competition for her daughters, the increasingly evil stepmother forbade Cinderella from attending.

When hope seemed lost, her dress destroyed, and her ride gone, Cinderella was rescued by her Fairy Godmother, who created a magical scenario for Cinderella to attend this coveted event, including the iconic glass slippers. The condition was she needed to be well on her way home by the last chime of midnight.

After winning the heart of the prince, Cinderella found herself racing the midnight bells. She lost a shoe on her way down the palace steps, but she kept going to avoid the possibility of being seen as she transformed back into the little slave girl. In his despair, the Prince mounted a kingdom-wide search to find the girl at the ball who had won his heart, using her lost magical glass slipper as the measure of his future princess.

Stepmother realized that Cinderella was the mystery girl at the ball. Desperate for her one of her daughters to become princess, Stepmother began to scheme.

When the prince arrived at their home, she locked Cinderella away in the attic and instructed the stepsisters to do whatever it took to fit into the shoe.

The stepsisters pushed and shoved and struggled to walk in the ill-fitting shoe because it was the singular qualification to earn the promotion to princess. In an early version of the fairy tale, one of the sisters even cut off her toes to fit into the shoe!

Lo and behold, Cinderella was once again rescued, this time by her trusty advisors and accountability tribe of forest creatures and talking mice. She ran down the stairs at top speed, caught the prince before his carriage departed, and slid her foot into the glass slipper with ease.

She fit the measure, met the qualification and became princess, living happily ever after because…the shoe fit.

Leadership Shoe-fitting Competition

Leaders, in the competition for promotions, often make the same mistake the stepmother and stepsisters made in the story of Cinderella.

Once you know a promotion is coming and decide you want it – really, really want it – you do whatever you must to obtain it, no matter the cost. There is a propensity to focus on the climb to the top, to get swept up in the competition for advancement.

Even if you have the inkling that the new role won’t be the right fit or the timing may not be right, you push and strive and struggle to show that you can make it work.

You cut off your toes to make the shoe fit.

But, it’s only going to be a matter of time before you start stumbling around, trying to make a role fit that just doesn’t.

With the wrong-fitting shoes, your feet become sore (women may have more experience with this than men, but trust me, ill-fitting shoes are incredibly painful). All you can do is pry off the ill-fitting shoe, soak your feet, and try to prepare for the next day.

In a wrong-fitting job, you become unhappy and unable to perform your duties to the best of your ability because the role you’re in doesn’t fit who you are. To make matters worse, the misery at work begins to come home. You come home, peel off our suit, fall into the couch and zone out for the evening. There is little to no engagement with your family because you’re worn out but still have to do it all again the next day. You are miserable and your family is miserable.

If the Shoe Fits, Wear It

More importantly, if it doesn’t fit have the courage to say no and wait until one comes that does fit. If the qualifications or the timing aren’t right for you don’t try to twist and bend your way into an ill-fitting role. It’s just going to make you miserable. Your “happily ever after” isn’t going to happen with blisters on your heels or your toes scrunched up tight – or worse, cut off!

Don’t be the Evil Stepsisters

Don’t let the evil, social-climbing stepmother dictate your life by whispering in your ear that you must do whatever it takes to make the shoe fit. Don’t get swept up in the competition. You don’t need to do this to get your happily ever after.

Find YOUR Happily Ever After

Channel your inner Cinderella (or Cinderfella). Cinderella had some great skills and situations that helped her find her happily ever after that translate well to leadership:

  • Trusted Relationships – she had a tribe of trusted advisors to help her assess her options, prepare, encourage her, assist her journey, and help her be in the right place at the right time to find her fit.
  • Fairy Godmother – a wise advocate who helped Cinderella. The fairy godmother helped her understand her strengths, guided her, and helped her see the journey in front of her. To me, the fairy godmother is a good parallel to an executive leadership coach.
  • A Self-care Regimen – while it may be hard to believe, even Cinderella took the time to take care of herself. Her self-care may look a little different from yours, but she found refuge in her friendships, in the beauty around her, and in her singing. If she can do it, so can you!
  • Courage and Kindness – even in the worst of times, Cinderella exuded gratefulness, kindness, and humility. In the latest, live-action movie, the moniker, “Have courage and be kind,” was her mother’s dying wish. Cinderella’s choice to live that way was what summoned the fairy godmother to help her.

We can rewrite the story of leadership that has been handed down through the generations. We can retrain our brains to write a new story that encourages authenticity, humility, and self-care. Know who you are, be satisfied with your role until the opportunity come that fits you.

Only then will you get your happily ever after. Because only then, will the shoe fit.

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About the author

Connie Smith-Hein, MS, ACC

Connie Hein has accumulated 25 years working in behavioral health focusing on executive leadership and team building. She has deep experience in psychology and counseling.

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